231 of 235 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2002
What a delightful, inspiring collection of concise biographical profiles!
MuCullough culls the last few centuries for extraordinary men and women whose names might vaguely trigger a bell, but whose achievements and courage have mostly been forgotten. Going beyond the trivia answers, McCullough recreates the historical context and human passions that drove Alexander von Humboldt to explore South America, Frederic Remington to paint a vanishing way of life, Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom's Cabin (the most popular book - and play of the 19th century America!), and Miriam Rothschild's studies of insects.
Yet the most fascinating chapter, by far, celebrates the literary powers of pioneer airplane pilots: Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Beryl Markham, and Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Rising above the clouds as no man or woman had ever done before, these courageous souls combined a love of science and technology with a sense of reverence for nature's beauty. "With the advance of the airplane, they were sure, the old barriers of time and distance would give way, bringing humanity closer together," writes McCullough. "That they would also share a common crisis in such faith is also part of their story."
McCullough does a remarkable job of resurrecting quirky hereoes and suggests that "courage is contagious." Perhaps he's wrong, but I hope he's right as we begin a new century of unknown peril and possibility.
P.S. I've given a few copies of this book as gifts to relatives and friends.
111 of 112 people found the following review helpful
David McCullough is, arguably, the best popular historian of his generation. He has written amazing historical works ("The Johnstown Flood," "The Path Between the Seas," "The Great Bridge) and outstanding Presidential biographies ("Truman," "John Adams," "Mornings on Horseback"). In addition, over the years he has produced numerous shorter pieces for magazines, which were bound together for "Brave Companions."
As a historian, McCullogh has always been very interested in the lives of people, hence the title of the book. In his narrative he brings to life a number of historical figures, some of whom have become quite obscure. Alexander von Humboldt, for example, was a contemporary of Lewis and Clark whose scientific expedition to South America may have been a more impressive feat than the journey of the two Americans. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" author Harriet Beecher Stowe and Old West painter/sculptor Frederic Remington are the subjects of short but frank mini-biographies.
The biographical material remains McCullogh's strong suit and represents the best parts of this collection. A few of the other pieces don't work quite as well. Some were written as long as 30 plus years ago and are dated today. As with any collection of this kind, the reader is likely to focus on those articles that are of the most personal interest. At less that 250 pages of text, the book is a relatively quick read compared to most of McCullough's works.
Overall, an excellent historical work that will particularly be enjoyed by fans of David McCullough.
75 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2003
Since reading my first David McCullough book, MORNINGS ON HORSEBACK, I was delighted and impressed by the author's depth of research and his easy style of writing. I loved his book, JOHN ADAMS and also TRUMAN. The author can be trusted with the facts and although the books are long, the reader doesn't want them to end - they are that interesting! I plan to read all of David McCullough's books.
BRAVE COMPANIONS is a wonderful easily readable book of interesting in depth portraits of people with a purpose. The author makes his portrayals come alive in a unique way. You will learn how history was shaped by ordinary people who did amazing things. I was familiar with only a few such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles and Anne Lindbergh, and was so pleasantly surprised to read about many others such as Miriam Rothschild and David Plowden. I am happy to have met all of these different and exceptional folks. The last chapter, Simon Willard's Clock is just plain great!
Be warned - when you begin reading this informative book, you will not stop until completing it and you will want to know even more about each subject - it's that good! And, like me, you will buy a few copies to give as gifts.
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
David McCullough may be the most revered historian of the twentieth and twenty-first century. This may be somewhat exaggerated, but he keeps the romanticism of the past alive. The cover artwork of BRAVE COMPANIONS: PORTRAITS IN HISTORY shows the wide open spaces of the American landscape, which may suggest the stories and adventures that readers will discover when they read this book. McCullough revisits legendary and not as legendary individuals in American history that have made an impact on American society for their individual contributions. McCullough presents these individuals and their stories as ordinary people and not larger than life characters, which textbooks or biographies have portrayed them to be. Surprisingly, he earned a degree in English and not in History. However, that does not restrict him from preserving the memory of the past in a colorful way. His eloquent and personal writing style entices many to enjoy extensive pages of his narratives on historical figures such as, John Adams, George Washington, and Harry S. Truman.
BRAVE COMPANIONS: PORTRAITS IN HISTORY compiles early essays that McCullough wrote prior to and in between writings of his most notable novels that involved the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal, and a list of other topics that have found their way into his writings. BRAVE COMPANIONS paints a broad picture of Americana through these essays, and offers a somewhat personal glimpse of literary and historical figures such as, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louis Agassiz, Miriam Rothschild, and Alexander von Humboldt, as ordinary people who happened to make it into the history books. McCullough introduces each character like an old friend; these are the people he grew to know through his studies and research, and this is his ode to a few of them.
The concluding chapters are the most interesting. McCullough summarizes what history means to him, and how far American history has come. The essay entitled "Recommended Itinerary" reads like a graduation address to graduating college students. McCullough merely states that their learning does not end when they leave the halls of their education, but rather continues when they further discover new areas of learning either through books, travel, or the people they meet. Their education only comes alive when they visit historical monuments, museums, or actual places in which they have only read or talked about in school.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 1998
McCullough shows that history is more than great men and great events. One only needs to read about the discovery of lost and forgotten blueprints of the Brooklyn Bridge to see a new window open on events that we all thought we knew about. The joy of reading anything by McCullough is that he takes you on a guided tour of captivating people, places and events that have been glossed over by more so-called grteat events and people. McCullough does this with a great passion and an understanding that the readers are not always college scholars, but real people who expereince life on a simpler level, people who can relate to the ordinary progress and pace of life. Brave Companions is a book that opens the door to new insights of history, and the door is open to eveyone.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
This book is another McCullough masterpiece. A collection of articles and essays published by McCullough in the past few decades, this book is truly the epitome of well written and researched history. McCullough definately knows how to make his subjects (dead people and events that very few people know about) come back to life. His prose flows like a fictional narrative. The people and events discussed are enough to make you wonder often if the book is fiction. But it's not. All of McCullough's sources are authentic. And what he doesn't know, he'll admit - a sign of a true historian.
If you like history you'll love this book. As an amateur historian myself I greatly appreciated the last few chapters in the book where McCullough emphasized the importance of learning our history, as well as the need for us to write our own. This is a short, but highly entertaining and beneficial book. Highly recommended.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2000
This is an outstanding collection of historical portraits, each of which stand alone. McCullough's passion for history, as well as his excellent research and writing, shine through in every piece. Particularly notable are those pieces that extend beyond historical to analysis, such as the chapter on early aviators and their philosophical view. The chapter "Recommended Itinerary" (a commencement address) is stirring. Because of the length of the pieces, the common significant investment in interest and time required for history is not a factor here, and the breadth of the pieces is particularly attractive for someone with a general interest in history.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
We already knew that McCullough could write history like a great novelist. Here we discover that he can also write history like a great short story writer.
McCullough fans will recognize some of the characters and material included here-- characters from Teddy Roosevelt's American West, the Roeblings of the Brooklyn Bridge, and some remarkable drawings that they left behind. These slightly familiar portions are a treat, like finding little "extras" left over from McCullough's other books.
But there are other characters here as well. Other writers like the extraordinary Harriet Beecher Stowe, whom everyone knows about, but not very much. Or Harry Caudill, a modern day lawyer who became an Appalachian activist. Some of them, like Alexander von Humbolt the South American explorer, will lead the reader to think first, "I've never heard of this person" and second, "Why haven't I?!"
Some of these are works of history; some are really works of journalism. And while all are loosely linked by themes of human courage and dedication, what really links them is that McCullough saw something important in these stories and so wrote about them.
This is a great book to introduce someone with a not-quite-a-whole-book attention span to top-notch historical writing. And for McCullough fans, it's a great chance to see his magazine writing collected.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2005
Essayist and historian David McCullough spent 20 years culling the data for his literary portraits in "Brave Companions." However, the book reads so seamlessly it is hard to believe that even a moment passed in the discovery and reflection of the information on the brave soldiers of intellect, art, and community portrayed by McCullough. "Brave Companions" goes to familiar territory, but in unfamiliar ways. The stories are inspirational yet easily accessible. McCullough has created a masterpiece. Other recommendations: "1776", "Mornings on Horseback", "A Long Way Down", "The Kite Runner", and "My Fractured Life."
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2014
If David McCullough’s books are mountains, BRAVE COMPANIONS is his rock collection. A compilation of seventeen articles, we’re introduced to history-makers from 1980s England to the days of Jefferson. For a man who made his mark with books so weighty they could be used as architectural cornerstones, writing short pieces would seem confining. And, ultimately, the book’s quality is mixed.
The historical profiles are very good. One gets a sense that McCullough feels a duty to expose history’s underappreciated figures. Alexander von Humboldt, Frederic Remington, Louis Agassiz - all burned brightly in their day and age, but their impacts on the 21th Century are easy to overlook. The author feelingly shows how these men and women embodied their era. It’s everything that we love in historical biography.
A problem arises when the author focuses on living figures. Profiling a contemporary becomes journalism, and it’s not McCullough’s strong suit. His interview with photographer David Plowden is well-written, but mediocre. Same with Miriam Rothschild, a flamboyant heiress pursuing her eclectic interests with tireless fervor.
Some of the articles are useful appendices to earlier McCullough works. We’re provided more insight into the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal, for example. “The Treasure from the Carpentry Shop” is an intriguing postscript to the making of the Brooklyn Bridge - a reminder that history is tangible and valuable even if some artifacts are lost to dust and mothballs.
The book’s strongest component is the more free-form essays that conclude the collection. My favorite, “Washington on the Potomac,” will ignite an appreciation for the nation’s capital.
Altogether, this is a book specifically designed for fans of David McCullough, more of a B-side to the main albums we love so much, but still worth throwing on the turntable.